If you got a close-up look at Facundo Pieres’ arm, you would have seen a first in the Argentine Triple Crown: a captain’s armband. But instead of the plain armbands the other team captains wore, his was sort of flashy. That’s because it was a soccer armband.
No, Facundo doesn’t have a second life on the soccer field, but he does have a very good friend there: Leonardo (“Leo”) Ponzio. Both are captains and superstars in their respective sports.
As a token of their friendship, Ponzio gave Facundo his armband from the final of the 2018 Argentine Super Cup, which his team, River, won in March. He had no expectation that Facundo would do anything with the armband other than treasure it, which he did. Then when the 2018 Argentine polo season approached, Facundo, along with everyone else, learned that captains would be required to wear an armband so umpires could easily spot them if an issue had to be resolved. But the armband Facundo was expected to wear was the same color as his Ellerstina jersey, which wouldn’t make him stand out on the field.
Then he had an epiphany, and a pretty cool one, at that. The armband Ponzio gave him was white with black stripes on the sides and a red-and-white emblem in the middle. It would be easily visible from a distance, and Facundo felt it would be a nice way to honor his friend. But that would be a deviation from tournament rules, so it required the AAP’s permission.
It wasn’t as difficult to get their approval as you may think, but a serious pushback came from within Ellerstina. Facundo’s brothers and cousin (Gonzalito, Nico and Polito), as well as their illustrious father Gonzalo, are fans of Boca, the rival soccer team that is to River what La Dolfina is to Ellerstina. The family’s loyalty to Boca is not a slight to Ponzio; it’s a tradition that pre-dates their acquaintance.
Eventually Facundo’s teammates gave in about the armband. After all, Ponzio is their friend, too. Facundo jokes that they didn’t have much choice, as he was Ellerstina’s captain and his word goes. But he also says they wouldn’t have gone along with it if he was just a soccer fan cheering for River on its own merits. (Facundo respects soccer but is in no way a fanatic.)
The simple truth is that whenever Ponzio plays, Facundo is pulling for him, and vice versa. Ponzio, who has more than a passing interest in polo, comes to matches whenever he can. Ponzio jokes that he brought Ellerstina luck when they crushed it in Palermo 20-5 over La Canada in early December. Ponzio, who watched the match from the Ellerstina palenque, flew to Spain the next day to prepare for the Copa Libertadores final, which River won.
The Pieres-Ponzio relationship began some time ago when Ponzio heard an associate of his coach talking about his friends the Piereses and how amazing they were. Ponzio was intrigued and asked him to arrange an introduction. They were invited to Ellerstina’s farm and stayed for an asado, to be followed by many more over the years. The more time he spent with Facundo, the more Ponzio’s interest in polo grew. “He even stick-and-balled with us a few times,” says Facundo. According to a report in LaNación, Ponzio has said that when he retires from soccer he may give polo a real try. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing Facundo on the soccer field.
Photography: Helen Cruden & Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images South America (Ponzio)